Black Hills Woman Magazine | Career Profile Helen Usera, Ed.D.

Career Advice: Baring it All At Work
Helen Usera, Ed.D.

Policies, job descriptions and procedures are not enough to keep people from “baring it all” at work. A person’s personality, or lack of cultural refinement, can drive conversations into a quick, inappropriate tailspin. Office chatter that is too revealing becomes uncomfortable for many coworkers who are hesitant to complain. Some examples of conversational types are:

Avoid-Personal-Questions coworker: They won’t share anything about their personal lives. Ask intimate questions of them in private. Be prepared for them to avoid answering. They are not rude; rather, they have defined lines of personal and professional lives.

Ask-Me-Anything coworker: This personality will tell everyone everything about themselves. They’re direct and will talk about all that happens in their lives, or in the last 24 hours. Direct questions that result in a yes, no or brief response will help communicate with this type. They may need to be coached to refrain from content that can be offensive.

Break-Time-Conversationalist coworker: The quintessential water-cooler chatterbox—they engage in break room or hallway conversations when not busy with work. They will ask about your day or a recent project. They may share a new recipe or a funny incident. Asking questions related to their passions, such as gardening or an upcoming company event, engages the person. However, avoid interrupting their daily routine to have a personal conversation.

Specific strategies can uncover the mode of a coworker’s conversation:

  • Start a conversation with, “How is your day/week?”
  • Listen to conversations before offering a comment.
  • Eat lunch in the break room or other area where people hang out to learn who enjoys conversing.
  • Avoid situations or groups of people who engage in conversations that appear to be inappropriate or uncomfortable.
  • Confide in a supervisor or mentor if you are unsure about how to approach a coworker.
  • The workplace culture can influence how much employees talk about their personal lives. Work should be enjoyable, since at least 30 percent of a person’s life is spent at work. However, everyone has their preference about how much social conversation they want at work. Knowing the conversation whims of coworkers requires observation and communication. The key is knowing how to approach coworkers without “baring it all” in every conversation. BHW

Helen Usera, Ed. D. of Aspiring Business Consulting helps businesses improve and grow through group training and individualized coaching. Dr. Usera focuses on her speaking and training on Organizational and Leadership Development.

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